USM: the infinite era of steel

For three days every two years, Designers’ Saturday transforms the small town of Langenthal, in the suburbs of Bern, into the design capital of Central Europe.
USM, a company born and bred in the local area, certainly left their mark on the event thanks to an installation created by the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD).

Coordinated by Carol Gerber (USM’s Head of Marketing) and curated by Jan D. Geipel, the installation – entitled “A Breathing Grid” – is a work of contemporary architecture which offers a poetic portrayal of USM’s pragmatism, conveying the strength of the material while at the same time revealing a sense of lightness. It is an invitation to get to know the Swiss company via a visual metaphor. An irregular grid made up of modular pieces from the Haller system appears like a vast collection of windows whose curtains breathe constantly – because while USM’s products are all about strength, they are also lightweight and dynamic, straddling the fine line between industrial design and contemporary art form.

When you do get to know USM, their president, their history and their personnel, the puzzle falls into place and everything becomes a lot easier to understand.

Theirs is a company with a strong focus on the product, yet the product is very much market-oriented. This is not just a clever play on words, but the very core of the USM philosophy. A family company led by Alexander Schärer, USM has for the last 51 years focused on developing a system which has a simple sphere at its heart. Not just any old steel sphere, but the crucial link between the design and product phases, a tiny object which has enabled USM to design and develop a range of furniture whose unique characteristic is its longevity and ability to stay relevant without every changing.

The secret of USM’s success is that the creators of their flagship product have never stopped trying to move forward. And every tiny qualitative improvement over the years has allowed the sphere and everything that has been built around it to stay current, to stay new.

It is a steel sphere that has given life to a system, to 14 colours, to a seemingly infinite life, given its natural ability to renew itself. Therein lies USM, an enviable fusion of skills and passion.